Album review: “Picnic” by Lisa Mac
Musical genres can be limiting or liberating, depending on what performers do with them. Many music fans identify themselves by their preferred genre: They will make declarations like “I’m country” or “I’m rock and roll,” and a whole set of expectations and assumptions are instantly created. A performer who caters to such expectations is arguably more likely to be commercially successful.
There are certainly also performers who deliberately distort or ignore genre conventions, freeing themselves from the potential trap of audience expectations. This is a riskier career move but arguably more artistically rewarding, provided an audience is willing to listen to the results. Think of Radiohead or Tom Waits; it’s not easy to pin a label on them, right?
Lisa Mac, whose first studio album, “Picnic,” was released last November, avoids both of these extremes and manages to come up with a style and sensibility that is entirely her own, one that injects some much needed originality into the genre of blues rock and establishes a true original voice.
“Picnic” demonstrates that Mac has both the vocal and instrumental chops to distinguish herself in a competitive environment. She has been performing frequently in and around Vegas and St. George, and anyone who attends live shows in these areas will likely be all too familiar with blues rock conventions (not that that’s a bad thing). So being a good musician and singer is, though not a given, just the first step in getting the attention of an audience. Having said that, her voice is impressive, powerful, and identifiable. I haven’t seen her perform live, but on the basis of her singing on “Picnic,” I can’t imagine many people would be able to ignore her when she’s singing.
Even better is the fact that she actually has things to say. Her lyrics are empowering and positive and come from an undeniably female perspective. “Not Getting Any,” for example, includes this memorable chorus: “I dropped your shit at your mama’s house yesterday / You can talk talk talk / All you want want want but / You’re not gettin’ any.” This is the anthem of a woman who refuses to engage with an unappreciative lover. “I’m a big girl now and I demand something more.” Even deadbeat boyfriends will be unable to resist the groove of this song.
Elsewhere, on “Changing,” Mac’s lyrics explore the self-consciousness of a writer: “I used to flip my notebook shut / When someone would walk on by / Terrified they’d see what I’d write.” The music here reflects a kind of aching vulnerability but also hints at a fierce determination. The song contains one of the best couplets I’ve heard in a long time: “My heart is racing / But this time it’s not the nicotine / It’s ‘cause I’m seeing you / In another fifteen.”
Musically speaking, “Picnic” makes the most of a small combo. Organ is featured nicely on the title track, and “Apron Strings” is energized by a driving bass line. “Come Hard,” which is as appealingly provocative as the title suggests, also features DJ scratching. This is a fun record with lyrical bite and an engaging singer.
It’s also an EP, which means it’s all over much too soon. Many of the songs also begin to fade out before the groove has fully developed, and it would have been nice to hear them go on a bit longer. And on a few occasions, the bass hits too many of the same notes, turning the groove into a drone. But for a first studio album, “Picnic” is surprisingly great. It’s also available from Lisa Mac’s website as a $5 download (or $10 for both a CD and a digital download). This is the bargain of the year.
Based on her proficiency with multiple social media venues, Lisa Mac has all the signs of a performer with a promising future. According to her blog, she’s already at work on a full-length album and appears to maintain a busy touring schedule. This picnic might be over too soon, but there’s the promise of rich banquet to come.